A Breakdown of Oregon vs. USC at Autzen


Now that the Oregon loss to USC has sunk in a bit, let’s take a look at how it all went down…

Okay, USC beat Oregon in Autzen Stadium over the weekend.  I thought that the Ducks would be able to slowly fatigue the Trojan defense and that would lead to an explosion by Oregon’s offense in the second half.  Unfortunately for the majority in Eugene last Saturday night, that never happened.  If you read my USC vs. Oregon preview, you’ll recall there were two things I mentioned that I was worried about: 1) how much more athletic the Trojan defensive line and linebackers have become over the last couple seasons, and 2) how USC needed to stretch the field and take plenty of shots deep down the sidelines in their passing game.  I thought Oregon would give up a few big passing plays, but Barkley looked unstoppable all night.  On top of that, Oregon’s run defense broke down and let USC own the game by picking up four to six yards on a lot of early downs.

There were many who believed that Oregon would dictate the tempo of the game, but that was far from the reality.  Oregon has come out slow many times in the past against quality opponents, and it was clear Saturday that Oregon was off to a very slow start in the first quarter.  The difference is that the Ducks typically make up for their slow start in the second half, and that just wasn’t happening in this game.

Coach Kiffin was expected to take chances, call trick plays, manage the clock and go for it on fourth downs in order to stay in game.  Instead that became Coach Kelly’s role.  The Ducks had trouble converting when they needed to late in the game, dropped passes, and turned the ball over a number of times.

If last Saturday night taught us anything it was this – Oregon is too young and not ready to be a national championship contender.  USC is a very good football team and underrated in the national picture.

As I watched this game live it made me think of a few things.  Oregon’s secondary was picked on by Lane Kiffin and Matt Barkley.  Early in the game the Ducks attempted to play USC with a single high safety, sometimes leaving the corners “on an island” in man coverage.  Robert Woods had seven catches for 53 yards and two touchdowns, while Marquis Lee had a monster game with eight catches for 187 yards and one score.  At quarterback, Barkley looked a step better than Stanford’s Andrew Luck (or perhaps Oregon’s defense looked that much worse against SC than Stanford).  Barkley completed 26 of 34 passes (76.5 percent) for 323 yards, four touchdowns and only one pick.

USC’s ground game really hurt the Ducks as well.  Kiffin was able to air the ball out more often on second down because of big gains on first downs.  Curtis McNeal averaged 4.7 yards per carry and Marc Tyler averaged just over four yards per carry.  Neither back had a huge day statistically, but together they got the job done behind a talented USC offensive line.

Oregon’s high octane offense is unique to football.  The spread offense has been around and is still gaining popularity around the nation at all levels of sub-professional football.  However, Oregon and Chip Kelly do things a little different than most.  And, with Coach Kelly’s offensive system, just like any other, there are pros and cons.  The go, go, go pace doesn’t allow for much communication between coaches.  I think this situation hurt the Ducks late in the game.  Oregon could not have run more plays had they used their timeouts to stop the clock.  With eight seconds remaining, it is standard practice to kick the field goal.  An offense does this in case its QB takes a sack, or intentionally grounds the football under pressure, or a player is tackled before the first down marker inbounds.  (Remember, in college football the game clock is stopped after a first down to set the chains.)  I am not knocking Chip Kelly’s decision to stay with his system during their last drive, I am just pointing out that this style of play also has a downside in the clock management department.  Bottom line is that the offense did their job and got positioned for a reasonable field goal attempt to tie the game.

This game was decided by three points and a missed Oregon field goal attempt.  It was a gift from USC that the Ducks were even in the game late; Oregon got a hand on the football and caused a fumble in the red zone.  The Trojans should have at least got three points on that drive and that would have forced the Ducks to go for the end zone.

Could Oregon have beat USC in overtime?  Would a shorter field, due to the overtime rules in college football favor the Ducks?  I believe that it would have.  Oregon could have stayed with their two-safety adjustment and wouldn’t need to cover as much ground.  Oregon could have played more against the run and short passing game.  I believe that would have given the Ducks an advantage against the Trojans in overtime as compared to regulation play.  Then again, in the red zone Kiffin did an amazing job.  He utilized motion, crossing (rub) patterns, and Barkley’s ability to read man or zone coverage to produce two red-zone touchdowns during regular play.

Overtime would have been exciting to see, but it’s only an afterthought now.  Oregon and USC gave us a great game, and I am sure many people around the conference and nation enjoyed this one.  This could be a blessing in disguise for the Ducks who have yet to experience that big win in the Chip Kelly era.  Oregon needs to lock up a Rose Bowl bid and win that big game against a quality opponent.

Bring on the Beavers!  I think every Duck on the roster has a bad taste in their mouth that they would like to get rid of this weekend.  I pity the Beavers this coming weekend.